A breath of freedom, but we must act in a mature way to keep saving lives
AMONG the many legacies of the great American inventor Thomas Edison is his wise quotation: “The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.”
This paean to self-reliance and tenacity could be the backbone of Phase Two of the UK’s fight against Covid-19.
Yesterday, Boris Johnson lauded the “common sense of British people” as he knocked back critics of his roadmap and showed how we could bring a small degree of freedom back into our confined lives.
Following his address on Sunday that reached an astonishing 27.49 million viewers – in which the PM debuted the rubric, “stay alert, control virus and save lives” – came a 50-page “exit strategy” document that takes us step by cautious step away from the lockdown we’ve experienced for almost two months.
As the chief medical officer Chris Whitty said: “There is a little bit of room for manoeuvre, the numbers are going down.” The virus’s peak is over. While there were tragically 210 fatalities yesterday, that figure is the lowest daily tally since March 26.
Many of us can now return to work – with social distancing in place.The one-aday outdoor exercise rule has been dropped. Garden centres will be allowed to reopen from tomorrow and we may once again swim in the sea. Should the plan progress in the right direction, families and friends could even soon mix in “social bubbles”.
One would have thought the PM was rewriting the Bible from the howls of his critics, and the clarity of his message wasn’t helped by Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland deciding to reinforce the Phase One “stay at home” lockdown.
But while Mr Johnson himself accepted that ending lockdown is “supremely difficult”, the exit document itself is far from being confusing, as some suggest. It merely invites a degree of cooperation from a population that has learned in the past few months how to cope with a pandemic that has killed more than 32,000 Britons.
So while there are green shoots, the PM’s message remains that we must continue our vigilance. As he said, going “too far and too fast” risks a second outbreak. Sadly for summer plans, foreign travel is unlikely. Pubs, restaurants and hotels will remain closed.
As the PM said “life will be different, at least for the foreseeable future”. He also warned that a vaccine remained distant.
So the key to Phase Two is that we must heed a new landscape that is neither total lockdown nor the freedom we enjoyed prior to March. But persist we must, and to Edison we can once again turn: “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up.”